I receive compensation for content and many links on this blog. Citibank is an advertising partner of this site, as is American Express, Chase, Barclays and Capital One. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same). Terms apply to the offers and benefits listed on this page.
There are (3) kinds of value you can get from a credit card, beyond just making it easy to buy stuff.
- Signup bonus. A card may have an attractive acquisition bonus. And you should get the card. But that doesn’t mean you should put any spending on it once you’ve earned the bonus. It’s like the old saying that the best marketing in the world is the enemy of a bad product.
- Benefits for having the card There are cards you should get because they give you better treatment from an airline or hotel, lounge access, annual free hotel nights, or other perks — perks that are worth far more than the card’s annual fee — but again, that doesn’t mean you should put any spending on the card. Get the card, stick it in a drawer, unless you have to show it to access your perks.
- Rewards for your ongoing spend There are cards that are rewarding for your ongoing spending. They earn valuable points (like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards), and earn them quickly (more than one point per dollar). That’s where you want ongoing spend to go.
I often list the best signup bonuses, or lists of which card is best for which category of spending. But what are the best cards for ongoing spend, spend that isn’t needed to earn a signup bonus?
Hint: it isn’t an airline miles card, for two reasons. First you’re locked into earning miles with one airline rather than having points that transfer to a variety of airlines. But second and more importantly because they simply don’t earn the most points.
- If you want Delta miles, the Delta credit card isn’t the one that earns the most SkyMiles. American Express Membership Rewards cards transfer to Delta miles as well as other programs and earn points faster because of category bonuses.
- If you want United miles, the United credit card isn’t the one that earns the most MileagePlus miles. Chase Ultimate Rewards cards transfer to United miles as well as other programs and earn points faster because of category bonuses. So whether it’s Chase Sapphire Preferred you earn more United miles than with the United’s co-brand card.
- If you want American miles, the American credit cards weren’t always the ones that earn the most AAdvantage miles. The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express historically did because when you transferred 20,000 points to miles you earn 5000 bonus miles (leaving aside the regularly-occurring transfer bonus American seems to offer), meaning a minimum earn of 1.25 miles per dollar. Sadly American is the exception today where you do need an AA card to earn American’s miles effectively.
In general you may want to have an airline card for free checked bags and priority boarding. You may want to spend on the card to avoid minimum ticket purchase requirements for airline elite status. But you don’t want to spend on most airline cards for the miles that spending earns you. They simply aren’t generous enough.
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express is the very best card for unbonused spend. It earns 2 points per dollar on the first $50,000 in purchases each year. These are Membership Rewards points that transfer to airline miles.
- The personal card combination which earns the most of the most valuable points for unbonused spend is having a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and putting your spend on Chase Freedom Unlimited, which has no annual fee and earns 1.5 points per dollar on everything. Transfer the freedom points to your Sapphire Preferred and on to miles, you earn 1.5 miles in your choice of programs on all spending. You should never earn just 1 mile per dollar.
Sapphire Preferred is the lower-annual fee option to pair here, but if you have Chase Sapphire Reserve all the points from Freedom when transferred can be used at 1.5 cents apiece towards paid travel (rather than ‘just’ 1.25 cents) through the Ultimate Rewards portal.
It’s important to have a good cash back card or ideally a card that earns more than one transferable points on you unbonused spend. And then to focus on the cards that earn the most points for the things you spend the most money on.
The best cash back option is Citi® Double Cash Card since it’s no annual fee and earns 2% back on all spend, which can be converted to 2 ThankYou points — if you have a Citi Premier or Prestige card then those points become transferable to airline miles. In other words, you’d be earning 2 miles per dollar on all spend that doesn’t get bonused anywhere else.
Also perfect here is the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card which has in my view the best current signup bonus but for the purposes of this post I focus on earning 3 points per dollar (on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases each account anniversary year) on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines.
That’s much stronger triple points than Chase Sapphire Reserve which is triple points just on travel and dining. Instead of dining you get myriad other purchases instead.